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Library books come to the Kindle at last!

For a long time, when someone asked me what ereader they should buy, if they had “must be able to borrow library ebooks” on their list of ereader features, I told them not to get a Kindle. As of today, that's not my answer anymore. Amazon announced that a whole bunch of public libraries would now be able to "loan" ebooks to Kindle owners. 

But when you look into how it works, what this new deal illustrates is how much the own/lend paradigm changes when you're talking about digital content. 

When the library borrowing feature was first announced for the Kindle months ago, a lot of folks speculated that Amazon would make the Kindle support the ePub format, because Overdrive, the primary supplier of ebooks to libraries, has been selling libraries ebooks in ePub format. When Overdrive assured libraries they would not have to buy new copies of their ebook collection, People assumed that if Overdrive was doing the lending, then the Kindle would revceive an ePub book.

But in fact, that won't happen.  What's clear now is that Amazon will send a Kindle-format book once Overdrive notifies them that a Kindle owner has “borrowed” a library book. The library has to own the book, and have a “copy” available to loan, but what actually happens is that Amazon delivers the file just as if the library patron had bought the book, and when the loan period is over, Amazon deletes the book. 

Publishers might think this will slow ebook sales, but I don't think it will. The primary advantage of ebooks is convenience, and having only two weeks to read a book is not at all convenient. Also, libraries have been hit hard by the recession, and I don't think they can afford to buy enough copies to make popular books available without a long wait; no one buys a Kindle to wait for a book.

Amazon also makes the idea of the borrower eventually buying the book more appealing by preserving any highlighting or annotations the user made during the lending period. I think this development will first off, increase Kindle sales, and second, push the digital format even further forward.

But first all those Kindle owners will have to find their library cards. I hope I know where mine is!

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( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 22nd, 2011 03:08 am (UTC)
This underscores the eBook format that Kindle espouses: you get the rights to use a book, not the book itself.

What I suspect might happen would be that this might lead to more piracy. You get a book for free via the Kindle reader for a PC, use your handy-dandy illegal copying software, and you've got yourself a copy of book to keep indefinitely.
Sep. 22nd, 2011 05:20 pm (UTC)
Hmm. I suppose that could happen. I tend not to associate piracy with library usage, but I suppose it's not like you have to take a polygraph to get a library card. And certainly there have been library patrons who stole print books.
Sep. 22nd, 2011 05:59 pm (UTC)
I liken it now to copying library CDs. The difference from making a cassette-to-cassette (or an album-to-cassette) copy to a CD-to-MP3 copy is tremendous, and the technology for print just made that leap.

For everybody who will obey the law, there will be people who will be able to crack the encryption and take off with a copy of the product, with neither Amazon nor the library the wiser.
Sep. 22nd, 2011 05:14 pm (UTC)
This IS good news. And no, I still don't own an ereader. :(
Sep. 22nd, 2011 05:17 pm (UTC)
According to the latest survey, 1/6 of Americans don't own an ereader, so you are in the majority. Give it a year or three and they will be so cheap they will be freebies when you buy something else.
Sep. 22nd, 2011 05:21 pm (UTC)
It's kind of what I'm hoping for! I'm also waiting for the technology to be largely...well, static isn't the right word, but you know what I mean. ?? When it's not evolving so quickly that today's coolest toy is obsolete by next week, I'll be more likely to pick one up.

I understand that's what's good about the Nook--updates.
Sep. 22nd, 2011 05:18 pm (UTC)
As a publisher my brain is split is two halves trying to figure out how this will affect sales. As someone that has worked in the library industry for over a decade I'm cheering how this might affect the possible downward spiral at libraries. but I'll still miss the smell & tactile feel of print books no matter the outcome.

Sep. 22nd, 2011 10:04 pm (UTC)
Do you know, I don't recall ever noticing the smell of a book except in a bad way, as when it had been left in a damp basement and gotten moldy. I guess that's one reason I went with an ereader as soon as they were feasible.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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